The art of building credibility

The art of building credibility

Your professional life hinges on credibility, a rare quality that takes a lot of time and patience to build, writes Gulshan Walia

Credibility is an excellent currency for generating influence.

Why should someone do as you say? Really, think about it. Think deep. Why would someone do what you want them to do? Maybe, you have something to offer to them in return. Maybe, they have something to lose if they don’t do as you say, and they fear you. Maybe, you have sold them the benefits of the action you want them to take.

Or maybe, they have genuine respect and belief in you! Put in other words, you have very high credibility with them  —  they trust you, perceive you as a reliable person, and believe that they can count on you.

Credibility has two components  — character and competence. Character is essentially seen as a sum total of basic human values like trustworthiness, sincerity and dedication. Competence includes knowledge, skills and expertise in a specific area.

Suppose you want to participate in a dance competition and need to choose a partner. One of your friends is a good dancer, but he is not reliable and dedicated. You are not sure if he will turn up for the rehearsals, and you worry that he may not put in the effort to practice and master the dance steps. Another friend is very trustworthy and dedicated, but he has two left feet. The first friend lacks character, and the second lacks competence (specifically in dance). A credible dance partner for you would be a trustworthy, dedicated person, who is also a good dancer.

An excellent currency

Therefore, to gain credibility one has to be trustworthy, dedicated and competent. Credibility is an excellent currency for generating influence. There is a large variety of techniques for influencing people, which can be used depending upon the circumstances, the personalities to be influenced, and the stakes involved in the situation. However, credibility is the foundation on which all other techniques stand.

Think of credibility as the basic fitness level of a tennis player —  his stamina, strength, flexibility, etc. And the influencing techniques as similar to the tennis techniques like forehand, backhand, volley, etc. A poor level of fitness can reduce the power of the best tennis techniques, whereas a strong level of fitness will fortify every technique. Similarly, a weak foundation of credibility can make the best influencing techniques fail. Whereas, a strong foundation of credibility can turbo-charge a simple influence tactic.

Taking a cue from physical fitness, credibility is also an indicator of your ‘ethical-political fitness’ within an organisation. A high level of ethical-political fitness enables you to increase your influence, leading to better results. Thus, enhancing your credibility is imperative if you want to enhance your influence. The truth is that everything we need to know about enhancing credibility, we learned in kindergarten. But, with the pressures and punches of life, we tend to forget these fundamental lessons.

Here are five time-tested, straightforward tips for building credibility:

Honour your commitments

Nothing damages your credibility like failing to keep your commitments  —  meetings, work deadlines or completing action items. Decide to make commitments only after thinking through your priorities, time availability, etc. It’s better to say an empathetic and polite ‘No’ instead of saying yes, only to break the commitment later on, and damage your credibility. The only two things needed to honour your commitments are: a notepad or any other storage system where you can write down everything you have committed to, and a will to do them.

Know your subject/area of work

Develop deep competence in your area of work. This can only be done by learning constantly. It has never been easier to learn than in the current Information Age. You can learn from books, websites, online courses, magazines, journals, blogs, trainings, conferences, and, of course, from experts around you. Keep yourself up-to-date with the latest happenings in your functional area. At a minimum, try to devote 30 minutes daily to developing your capabilities.

Be thorough

Cross the T, and dot the I  —  be meticulous in doing your work. Look at problems from all possible angles, think through various solutions, what will work, what will not work, anticipate the problems, and have a plan in place for dealing with them. Ensure that you do not turn in half-baked work and that your proposals are well thought through. If you do this regularly, you will have the added advantage of your name itself inspiring credibility. Stakeholders will already have a positive inclination to a solution or recommendation from you, even before you present, because they know that you always turn in high-quality work.

Be professional

Interact courteously with people, be humble and accept responsibility for mistakes, apologise if needed and make corrections. Stay away from idle gossip and chatter, keep personal differences aside while working with team members, and focus on the job at hand. Try to maintain your calm during high-stress situations — it’s critical not to go off the handle. Sharp, abusive words and highly aggressive body language can severely damage your credibility. Choose your words, tone and body language in a manner that demonstrates grace under pressure, which is regarded as a hallmark of professionalism.

Be authentic

‘What you see is what you get’ is one way of defining being authentic. It means that there is congruence in your words and actions. So, when people interact with you, they know that they don’t have to be on their guard to deal with hidden agendas, deceit, pretence and fakeness. You say what you genuinely feel, and you are able to speak the truth. This does not mean that you are rude and hurtful, rather it’s a way of being compassionately honest when needed.

Listen carefully, and be fully present when you are with people. Don’t let your thoughts wander off, showing disinterest. When you focus your attention on the people with you, they feel valued and perceive you as a genuine human being. Being authentic also means being aware of your values, and living them consistently by being true to yourself. It means that you are not afraid of being yourself, and are not looking for constant approval by following the herd, or doing the popular thing, even when it does not resonate with you. Authenticity is a very attractive trait, and it instantly notches up your credibility.